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JOLT Harm Reduction expands overdose prevention work to McLean County

JOLT Harm Reduction program director Chris Schaffner.
JOLT Harm Reduction program director Chris Schaffner.

A Peoria-based nonprofit aimed at overdose prevention is expanding its services to McLean County.

JOLT Harm Reduction this spring began offering mobile-based delivery programs on Mondays and Fridays in McLean County. JOLT doesn’t have an office here yet, but it already had clients in McLean County, making it a natural fit for a grant-funded expansion.

They’re starting small in McLean County, said JOLT program director Chris Schaffner.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. If there are service providers over there already that are working in certain spaces and we don’t need to do that, then we’ll continue to stay in our lane and do what we do best – which is save lives and link people to resources,” Schaffner said. “It’s hard to build trust. That takes some time, and we’re just trying to get out there and build relationships with people.”

JOLT was founded by Dr. Tamara Olt and her husband, Blake, following the accidental heroin overdose of their 16-year-old son Joshua in 2012. Paramedics were unable to reverse the overdose because they were not equipped with the opioid inhibitor Naloxone. Dr. Olt began the organization by distributing Naloxone to first responders so that what Schaffner called “a reversible and preventable death” would not become a reality for more people.

“I’m bragging on my team. They do incredible work. They save hundreds and hundreds of lives every year. That’s empty chairs around holiday dinners. It’s anniversaries that would be painful for folks. And we’re able to prevent all of that from occurring,” Schaffner said.

Harm reduction is a philosophy that says, despite our best efforts, people are unwilling or unable to stop using substances. The idea is that by facilitating clean drug use and offering guidance on the path to recovery, that eventually systemic drug abuse can be curtailed.

JOLT does this by offering services like confidential drug-testing to find substances like Fentanyl and Xylazine cut into other drugs; distributing the opioid inhibitor Naloxone (generic Narcan) that was recently made available over-the-counter; and giving out safe and sterile using supplies like syringes while doing street-based outreach. They also offer STI testing and do outreach not only to those suffering with substance abuse disorder, but to sex industry workers, homeless individuals, and other at-risk populations.

“We immediately began to see the benefit of lives being saved, and that was kind of going against the grain of what we’re seeing nationally,” Schaffner said, noting that Peoria County – where JOLT operates – bucked national trends in 2022 with a 50% decrease in fatal overdoses.

Schaffner said he believes the same impact can be felt in McLean County, where JOLT feels it can grow in and provide service for even more at-risk individuals.

JOLT is not the first organization to offer the overdose-reversal drug in McLean County. WGLT recently spoke with Chestnut Health Systems about its Narcan distribution efforts and what the FDA over-the-counter approval will mean.

“We’re literally going into homeless encampments. We’re finding people on the street and in trap houses and abandoned buildings. We’re ensuring they have the resources they need to stay alive,” Schaffner said. “There are Naloxone distribution programs in McLean County. But I’m not sure if they target the same populations in the same way as we do. Those mostly go to first responders, social service agencies, schools, organizations in the community.”

You can connect with JOLT’s McLean County staffer by calling (309) 966-3643 or following JOLT’s Facebook Page.

Erik Dedo is a reporting and audio production intern at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.